Music and Art of the Harlem Renaissance

The music of the Harlem Renaissance can provide a way for students to learn about musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong.

By Daniella Garran

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Music of the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was one of the most prolific creative periods in American history. Virtually every aspect of the visual and performing arts flourished as a result of the unique experience of African Americans in the 1920's and 30's.

To develop a strong sense of what African Americans were feeling and experiencing, introduce students to the work of poet Langston Hughes. You can have them read and analyze "Harlem: A Dream Deferred" ""Good Morning," and "Harlem Dance Hall.” Consider having students memorize one of these poems and giving a dramatic recitation for the class.

You can host a Harlem Renaissance festival in which the most significant individuals reconvene to assess their contributions to the movement and to the cultural development of the United States. Have students research and play the roles of individuals like authors W.E.B. DuBois, Claude McKay, Zora Hurston, Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, and Langston Hughes and musicians Eubie Blake, F.E. Miller, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie among others.

You can recreate a night at the Apollo Theater featuring video and audio performances of famous Harlem Renaissance poets and performers. Invite students to select and introduce a song, performance or poem of their choosing and explain why it is significant to them. Many videos and recordings of famous performances at the Apollo are available online.

In addition, you might want to have students create a virtual art exhibit using PowerPoint featuring the artwork of Harlem Renaissance artists set to music of the era. This will give students the opportunity to conduct independent research, create a PowerPoint presentation and develop an understanding of the interconnectedness of the art and music of this era. For more lessons to teach students about the Harlem Renaissance see below.

Music and Art of the Harlem Renaissance: 

Jazz

Students have the opportunity to learn about the Jazz Age and its influence on the development of the music of the Harlem Renaissance. Students learn about individual musicians and poets of the Harlem Renaissance, as well as the social and cultural issues at hand during this period of history. This lesson provides an opportunity for students to conduct independent research and generate a report or project.

The Impact of the Music of the Harlem Renaissance

Rather than studying the impact of societal events on music, this lesson allows students to study the impact of the music of the Harlem Renaissance on society. Students chart the development of the music during this era and then draw comparisons between the music of the Harlem Renaissance with the music of today. Students also analyze the contributions of individuals to the movement.

1920's Variety Show

For educators conducting a more in-depth analysis of the Golden Age of American history, this lesson provides a structure for creating a 1920s variety show about the art, poetry, music and dance of the Harlem Renaissance. This is an excellent tie in with the Harlem Renaissance festival mentioned above.

African American Storytelling

Students engage in an in-depth look at the history of African-American storytellers through music and verse. They begin by analyzing the stories of slaves, continue through the Harlem Renaissance and go up through the invention of rap music. Students look for common themes in the works that they study.